As parents, my husband and I strive to equip our children with the tools they'll need to grow into healthy, happy and successful adults. We teach them good manners, talk to them about the importance of personal hygiene, help them with their homework and tell them to eat their vegetables. We make sure that they say please and thank you, that they respect their elders and that they know how to save money for a rainy day. Our hope is that they grow into compassionate adults who remember to call home every once in a while, and that they never underestimate the importance of a kind word. We've spent their entire lives teaching them how to be the kind of people that the world needs, but just recently, I realized that perhaps we've overlooked one very important lesson.
Standing in the bathroom one night, I watched my youngest daughter enthusiastically brush her teeth and tell me about her day through a mouthful of mint-flavored bubbles. What she was saying was important to me, and I wanted to give her my full attention, but all I could focus on was that she hadn't turned off the faucet. As she brushed and talked, I stared in disbelief as water gushed out of the tap and swirled down the drain. Finally, unable to take it anymore, I shouted, "Turn off the water!" With her toothbrush wedged into her cheek, my daughter slowly reached out, turned the faucet off and looked at me like I'd completely lost my mind.
Out of all the lessons I've taught her over the years, how had I failed to teach her about the importance of sustainability? Quickly, I told her that she hadn't done anything wrong, but there was a better way to brush her teeth. I explained to her that the simple act of turning off the tap while she brushes her teeth could help our family save up to four gallons of water a day. When she asked me why saving water was important, I took the opportunity to explain that taking it easy on the tap helps conserve energy and reduces carbon pollution. Seeing that this information was a little confusing, I described to her the difference between finite resources and infinite resources. That small, unexpected, conversation opened the door for her to ask me what other things kids could do to help us live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Of course, there are a lot of things we do every day that teach our children the importance of being environmentally conscious, but if your family is anything like ours, there's always room for improvement. For instance, most of our kids know that they should be recycling, but it might surprise them to find out why we do it, and that it's a little trickier than just sorting the recycling into separate bins. Furthermore, they might be shocked to find out that sustainability extends far beyond paper or plastic. There are dozens of ways that kids can chip in and feel like they are an important part in the green movement, and most of them are really fun.
In the wake of that conversation with my daughter, our family has made it a priority to make better environmental decisions. While out riding her bike, my 10-year-old often picks up trash she finds on our street. It's tough for her to see litter everywhere, and being proactive in cleaning up our neighborhood makes her feel like she's making a difference.
My husband likes to follow the kids around the house turning off lights, unplugging appliances and reminding them to close the door when they go outside. He's also a pro at weatherproofing our home and switching our lightbulbs over to more energy efficient ones. These small changes have greatly reduced the amount of energy we use and have been quite cost-effective.
As for me, I've been trying to be more conscientious about food waste by planning (and sticking to) a weekly menu and shopping local when possible. My six-year-old has taken it upon herself to educate her younger brother about the importance of turning off the tap and has enthusiastically started helping me plan a native pollinator garden for the spring.
In the grand scheme of things, these changes may seem small, but as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in one of the Sherlock Holmes novels, "The little things are infinitely the most important." Teaching our children that their daily choices have a direct impact on their environment is one of the greatest gifts we can give them and a life lesson that will benefit generations to come.
Lana Shovlin is a Springfield mother of three who has broken up with plastic water bottles for good and can't wait until we can start bringing reusable bags to the grocery store again.